Texas "Save Chick-fil-A" bill moves toward Governor's desk

It was only a week ago that a bill in the Texas House of Representatives to protect the religious freedom of business owners was halted due to a procedural maneuver. The bill, known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, was re-introduced and survived a second attempt to stop it.

While the subject in the press reports is the story of what happens when LGBTQ activists attempt to deny business contracts to a fast food franchise, specifically, in this case, Chick-fil-A in a major city’s airport, it is the story of state legislators protecting the religious liberty of business owners. The battle is over the right of a business owner to financially contribute to charitable organizations in line with his or her religious beliefs.

Senate Bill 1978 passed Monday on a preliminary vote after two hours of debate in the Texas House. The vote was along party lines, 79-62. (There are 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives.) If the House formally approves the bill and the State Senate agrees to a change made to the bill, it will go to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill “prohibits government entities from punishing individuals or organizations for their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution … to a religious organization”. (Texas Tribune) That all sounds fairly simple, right? Yet, the meltdown from the minority continues.

There have been numerous articles written about the discrimination felt by Chick-fil-A, in particular, at the hands of LGBTQ activists. I know I’ve written about the battle here in Texas and in other parts of the country, too. None of the arguments against the fast food founder’s past contributions to religious-based charities and support of conservative politics, ring true with me. Mr. S. Truett Cathy has a right to his own religious beliefs, as does every American. His Chick-fil-A franchises are hugely successful and that doesn’t happen if management discriminates against any segment of customers.

The Texas House passed a less aggressive bill than was orginally put up for a vote. The provision that would allow the Texas attorney general to sue governmental entities on the basis of religious discrimination was the last to be stripped out of the bill Monday. All of the religious referral language in the original bill was stripped so that existing protections of the LGBTQ community remain in place.

On Monday, House sponsor Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, weakened the measure further, removing a provision that would have empowered the Texas attorney general to bring lawsuits against governmental entities accused of religious discrimination.

Krause said removing the provision was a show of “good faith,” as it had proved a “big sticking point” with opponents of the bill. Given the changes he described as efforts to compromise, Krause said he was surprised at the level of opposition to the measure.

“Look at the language in this bill,” Krause said. “There is nothing discriminatory in the language. … There is nothing discriminatory in the intent.”

The members of the LGBTQ Caucus are not satisfied with the final product, though. They would like state law to specifically protect workers from employment termination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who lobbed an unsuccessful point of order aimed at killing the bill, questioned Krause for some 30 minutes about how the bill might spark discrimination. And each member of the newly formed LGBTQ Caucus spoke against the bill, several of them emotionally, just before the House voted.

One member of the caucus, state Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, tried and failed to amend the bill with language that would have protected LGBTQ communities against discrimination from employers and the government. Currently, there is no state law that explicitly prohibits employers from firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but some cities have codified those protections at the local level.

Her amendment failed 65-76

Will Governor Abbott sign the bill into law when it arrives at his desk? It sure looks that way.